Training All Young Women to Run for Office Is My Life’s Work. Here’s Why.
By Sara Blanco
As a Latina, I’ve felt at times that my presence is contingent. I am shaken, for example, by assertions that my own country, the United States, should not welcome people like me, the natural-born citizen children of immigrants. But on the balance, I am very lucky that I don’t experience existential terror due to individual and systemic anti-Black racism. Race is complicated, and my relationship to my own ethnicity is, too. My Latinx relatives who live in the US are not safe, not even from violence or death. But the scale of our fear of the consequences of racism, the intensity of it, the history behind it, are radically different from what Black and Afro-Latinx folks face. And so, we are certainly more safe.
With that in mind, I recognize that I have a responsibility to support Black people working hard for freedom from fear. And I can use my relative safety as a shelter that allows me to raise my voice, too. This is true when it comes to marching, when it comes to contacting elected officials, when it comes to amplifying the voices of Black people, when it comes to using the privilege of discretionary income to donate to Black organizations, and it’s true when it comes to my professional life.
I am an excellent example of that strange advice, “fake it till you make it.” Although I believe in authenticity, sometimes, you have to brace yourself to get started on something challenging. It’s like how forming your face into a smile can actually lift your mood. It started with a phone interview, where I gushed about how passionate I was about women’s political representation. Of course, I did care about this, in the abstract, but it wasn’t something I had any special interest in. I just needed an internship, and I needed an internship so that I could get a job — somewhere else, I assumed. Apparently, my performance was convincing, because Running Start welcomed me to the team.
And then, in a matter of weeks, it wasn’t a performance anymore. Running Start’s mission to make sure young women don’t fall through the cracks in the political leadership pipeline has become my life’s work. I’m only 30, so I suppose that might change, but I don’t think it will. Because even if my “day job” ever changes, this will remain central to my advocacy and philanthropy. Part of what has kept me hooked specifically to Running Start is our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many critical ways, we hold to it as a foundational value: in promoting our programs to young women from all kinds of backgrounds; in ensuring that we reflect who our young women are; in fostering community in our programs; and in taking very seriously the importance of data and evaluation so that we know how we’re doing.
It mattered, even back when I was starting out as an intern, when I shared a suggestion or critique that came from my experience and identity. Sometimes, that meant pointing out a snag that wasn’t really about me, but at the time, I was the only person of color in the room. That didn’t last long: as our organization has grown (at 8 staff members, we’ve almost tripled while I’ve been here), the mix of voices has grown more varied — as it should. I still feel that I can speak up and be heard, and I hope that’s something my newer colleagues feel, too. The frankness of some important discussions we’ve had suggests that they do.
These personal, internal matters in our organization are important. But there’s a wider impact, too. Striving for gender parity in political leadership isn’t meaningful unless we make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. We train all young women to run for office, not just those who can easily access our programs or who have already been told (by their parents or by media message) that they can lead. And in this moment, we must turn our focus to young Black women, in particular. Conversations and decisions change depending on who’s at the table. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”
That’s where Running Start can — and will — use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. How much better if we all shove folding chairs under our arms — for ourselves and for each other — and insist that all of our voices are part of these important conversations.
Sara Blanco is the Program Director at Running Start. She has always been interested in women’s empowerment and became especially passionate about women’s political leadership upon joining the Running Start team. As a Latina, she’s particularly interested in empowering women of color to run for office. With Running Start, she has had the opportunity to speak to audiences large and small about women in politics and appreciates the small nonprofit experience of wearing many hats and doing every kind of work.
In 2018, Sara earned a Master of Public Policy at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University. At Trachtenberg, she was a fellow in the 2015–2016 Women’s Leadership Fellows (WLF) program and a co-chair the subsequent year. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 2012 with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She continues to live in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia, enjoying the adventure of DC life and working to bring young women to politics. Sara is a member of the Women’s Information Network, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and has co-written an unpublished novella.